How do the MLB playoffs work? MLB playoffs explained
From the postseason format to financial bonuses, our guide contains everything you need to know about the Major League Baseball playoffs.
What are the MLB playoffs?
The Major League Baseball playoffs is an elimination tournament held following the end of the regular season every year.
The purpose of the postseason is to determine the champions of the World Series – MLB’s annual championship game.
What is a wild card?
Ten teams qualify for the playoffs each year – five from each of the two leagues that make up MLB, the American League and the National League.
The six teams that win each of the divisions – AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL Central and NL West – qualify automatically for the playoffs.
The four remaining teams are known as wild cards – these are the two teams from each of the AL and NL that compiled the best regular season records without winning their division.
How do the MLB playoffs work?
The first round of the playoffs is called the Wild Card Game. This is a preliminary round in which the wild card teams from each league face off in single elimination games.
The two winners of the Wild Card Games advance to the Division Series – the first proper round of the playoffs.
The Division Series, known as either the ALDS or the NLDS, is essentially a quarter-final – there are eight teams remaining at this point.
The winners of the Wild Card Games play the team in their league with the best regular season record, while the other two remaining teams in each league play each other.
The Division Series is a best-of-five format, with the first team to win three games advancing to the next round.
The two winners of the Division Series from each league then advance to the League Championship Series, or the semi-final stage – known as the ALCS and the NLCS.
The LCS is a best-of-seven format, so the first team to win four games progresses.
The winners of the ALCS and NLCS – the American League champions and National League champions – then advance to the World Series.
The World Series is also a best-of-seven, and the first team to win four games is declared champions for that year.
To find out more about the World Series, check out our in-depth guide.
What is home-field advantage and how does it work?
With each round of the playoffs consisting of an odd number of games, one team always gets to host more games than the other. This is known as home-field advantage.
In the one-off Wild Card Games, the team with the better regular-season record gets home-field advantage.
In the Division Series, the two division champions in each league with the best regular-season record are given home-field advantage. They host the first two games of the series and the final game of the series, should a fifth game be required.
In the League Championship Series, the team with the best regular-season record is again given home-field advantage. However, if that team is a wild card, then their opponents get home-field advantage regardless of regular-season records. The team with the advantage host the first two games and the last two games of the series.
In the World Series, the league champion with the better regular-season record is again afforded home-field advantage. Just like the LCS, the World Series is a 2-3-2 format – the team with home-field advantage hosts game one, two, six and seven.
How do postseason bonuses work?
Every player that competes in the MLB playoffs is entitled to a financial bonus, but the amount is determined by several factors.
The bonus pool is funded by 60 per cent of the gate receipts from certain games in each round – both Wild Card Games, the first three games of each Division Series, and the first four games of each League Championship Series and the World Series.
By limiting the pool to the minimum number of games each series, it disincentivises players from extending the series for monetary gain.
The further your team makes it in the playoffs, the more bonus you are entitled to – the World Series winners get 36 per cent of the pool, the runners-up get 24 per cent, the two LCS losers get 12 per cent, the four DS losers get 3.25 per cent and the two Wild Card losers get 1.5 per cent.
When the money has been divided between the 10 clubs, it is up to the players to determine who gets what.
In a meeting chaired by a union representative, the players who have been with the team for the entire season decide how the money is shared out.
Depending on how the vote goes, players who have not been with the team for the full season, coaches, trainers and other clubhouse staff may be entitled to a bonus or a cash award.
The 2019 pool amounted to $80.9m, the third-highest total in league history. World Series champions the Washington Nationals received $29.1m, splitting it into 61 full shares of $382, 358, with 14 partial shares and two cash awards.